In Europe, Meta Offers Ad-Free Versions of Facebook and Instagram for First Time

Meta said on Monday that it will introduce an advertisement-free subscription option for Facebook and Instagram for the first time beginning next month for users in Europe, a sign of how government pressure is leading large tech companies to change their core products.

The social networking company said it was complying with “evolving European regulations” by introducing the subscription option in the European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Starting in November, users will be able to choose to continue using Facebook or Instagram for free with ads, or to subscribe to stop seeing ads, Meta said.

The cost will range from 9.99 euros a month ($10.58) on the web to 12.99 euros a month ($13.75) on iOS and Android devices, and apply to a user’s linked Facebook and Instagram accounts. Starting on March 1, 2024, an additional fee of 6 euros a month for the web version and 8 euros a month for mobile access will apply for additional accounts.

Meta’s core business has long centered on offering free social networking services to users and selling ads to companies that want to reach that audience. Providing a paid tier illustrates how tech companies are having to redesign products to comply with data privacy rules and other government policies, particularly in Europe. Amazon, Apple, Google, TikTok and others are also making changes to comply with new rules in the European Union, which is home to roughly 450 million people across 27 countries.

To protect people’s privacy, the European Court of Justice, the highest court in the E.U., effectively barred Meta in July from combining data collected about users across its platforms — including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp — as well as from outside websites and apps, unless it received explicit consent from users. That came after a January decision by E.U. regulators to fine Meta 390 million euros for forcing users to accept personalized ads as a condition of using Facebook.

In its July decision, the European Court of Justice indicated that offering a subscription service in Europe may be a way to comply with the judgment, Meta said. A subscription can allow users to access the platforms without having their personal data used to sell ads.

“We respect the spirit and purpose of these evolving European regulations, and are committed to complying with them,” the company said in a statement announcing the new paid tier on its website.

Meta added that while it was committed to keeping people’s information private and secure, it believed in an “ad-supported internet” that provides people with personalized products and services, while also allowing small businesses to reach potential customers.

Max Schrems, a privacy activist in Austria whose legal challenges targeting Meta helped lead to the product changes, said the subscription offerings do not comply with the E.U. data privacy law, known as the General Data Protection Regulation. He vowed to challenge it in court.

“If we move to a pay-for-your-rights system, it will depend on how deep your pockets are if you have a right to privacy,” Mr. Schrems said. “We are very skeptical if this is compliant with the law.”

Apart from Meta, Apple is expected by March to be required to allow customers to download alternatives to its App Store for the first time because of another E.U. law, called the Digital Markets Act. The Digital Markets Act was passed last year to boost competition in the tech industry. Google is also making changes to comply with the new law.

Last December, Amazon also made changes to its shopping service to give third-party merchants access to more valuable real estate on the company’s website, under terms of a settlement with E.U. antitrust regulators.

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